Many people think of fans as essential components for cooling heat-generating electronics devices such as digital signage media players. Fans are loud and make devices bigger than they need to be, but they’re a necessary evil, right? Wrong! As far as media players are concerned, they are actually completely unnecessary and a telltale sign of inefficient design.
I am a firm believer that fans should be avoided at all costs. Why? Let me count the ways… First of all, a fan is a moving part, therefore a potential point of failure. When a fan does fail, you probably won’t know until the entire device overheats and fails. Second, the fan itself requires power, which generates additional heat. Lastly, fans are not an essential part of electronics if the device is designed properly. They add no operative value – they’re simply a cooling system. That’s why you’ll never find a fan inside a BrightSign media player – a policy that I am passionate about. Our Series 3 players are more powerful than ever before, yet still there are no fans.
Specifically in digital signage, there are simple ways to avoid the need for a fan. Start by designing products that produce less heat in the first place. Product designers should be sure not to use bigger processors than necessary. Although it’s counter-intuitive, using a lightning-fast general-purpose processor may slow the system, rather than speed it up. Using appropriately specified processors with efficient, dedicated software can enable all the functionality required. A purpose-built, commercial-grade OS (rather than a consumer-grade OS, like Android or Windows, which is multipurpose and clumsy) can drive low-powered efficiency. Use fast, solid-state storage that can be returned to a low-power idle mode quickly. There are many strategic ways to produce less heat and creative methods to dissipate heat that do not require a flimsy, breakable fan.
If you are considering a player or SoC that needs a fan to cool it, be sure to also consider the potentially much higher TCO as a result of the fan breaking and the system overheating. That’s simply not a risk we’re comfortable passing on to our customers.
About the Author
BrightSign CEO Jeff Hastings joined BrightSign in August 2009 while it was still a division of Roku Inc. In late 2010 with digital signage activities growing so rapidly, BrightSign became a separate firm. The holder of eight U.S. patents, he also has a history of tech industry leadership, including as president of mp3 pioneer Rio.